There are a lot of French people in the area where we stay in London. When I arrive at one local park where the Frenchman has taken La Fille he gives me a look that translates as: "Watch what you say." Later he jokes: "You wouldn't want to be caught going 'Look at that ugly-bug child over there' in French would you?" I am horrified he thinks I would dream of saying such a thing.
The other morning I was chatting to a different Frenchman in the park as our girls charged around like dervishes. He told me the place is sometimes known as Little France and sometimes Nappy Valley because of the number of babies and young children. He announced, with some authority, that it has the highest birthrate in the whole of Europe. I have no idea if this is true or, if so, how it was worked out. Still, there has certainly been an explosion of young children; run-down parks that I recall being used mostly by clusters of spotty youths with nothing better to do are now spring-clean and packed to the railings with toddlers. Whatever else, it has possibly the highest number of ridiculously large pushchairs or curious children's names, or 4 x 4s on the school run. You can tell there has been an influx of money, not just by the amount spent on luxury perambulators but by the number of buckets and spades left in the sandpit at nightfall. What's more...nobody else nicks them. In Paris, La Fille's plastic playground tat is marked with her name.
I bumped into a former neighbour and had one of those 'hasn't-this-place changed' conversations. He wasn't worried about who was listening and complained about the area being invaded by the French. He said our old street was now less friendly. To be honest I do not recall anyone being particularly friendly - apart from this guy - when I lived there, but I just said I was the wrong person to complain to: "There are quite a lot of us in France too." He stopped me: "No, it's not the same. We arrive with one or two children, they arrive with tribes and take up so many school places our kids can't get in." I tell him the French accuse Britons of going there to take advantage of the health system and complain they are forcing up property prices. "The French are doing that here too," he said.
It just shows: Johnny Foreigner is always going to take the rap for something. Meanwhile it is getting dark and the unfortunate little girl whose mother has called her Tatiana but shortens it to Tatty appears to have left a Dora the Explorer bucket in the sandpit. I am tempted: if caught I could always pretend to be French.